NEW YORK CITY: The Tony Awards celebrated the theatre community beyond Broadway as much as on it in their 71st iteration at Radio City Music Hall on Sunday night. Dear Evan Hansen, which premiered at Arena Stage in Washington D.C. and played at Second Stage in New York City before moving to the Main Stem, won six awards, including the top prize for best musical. Lincoln Center Theater‘s production of J.T. Rogers’s Oslo won for best play, while Rebecca Taichman won for best director of a play for Indecent, which played at Yale Repertory Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, and the Vineyard Theatre before Broadway. La Jolla artistic director Christopher Ashley took home best director of a musical for Come From Away, which played at La Jolla Playhouse, Ford’s Theatre in D.C., and Seattle Repertory Theatre before arriving on Broadway.
Many resident theatre companies across the country also helped launch the careers of some of this year’s nominated artists. From formative training to workshop productions, from out-of-town tryouts to premieres, many nonprofit theatres had their hats in the ring.
John Douglas Thompson, nominated for his performance in Jitney at Manhattan Theatre Club, which won best revival of a play, credited the American Repertory Theater for teaching him about working as a team. “I worked at A.R.T. in quite a few collaborative productions,” Thompson told American Theatre on the red carpet. “And it was the first time that I was—it was early out of school—working with such incredibly talented artists collaboratively as a company…It taught me that this was a collaborative art form.”
The designers of Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 also sang the praises of the nonprofit theatres that developed and produced the show before it landed at the Imperial Theatre.
“Without Ars Nova, and without A.R.T., we would not be standing here right now—hands down,” said Bradley King, who took home a Tony for his lighting design. “Personally, I did a yearlong internship at Seattle Repertory Theatre. They had one of the only design internships I could find…I was assisting all these amazing designers who all hired me when I got back to New York.”
Mimi Lien, who won a Tony for her scenic design of Great Comet, also got her start at a regional theatre: “My first big job was at the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia, and it was the first time I got to design what I really wanted to and had a fairly decent budget…They were a great artistic home for me—I was there their for eight years—and really got to cut my teeth.”
The Dallas Theater Center was honored with this year’s Regional Tony Award. “Back home in Dallas tonight, our entire city is celebrating,” said artistic director Kevin Moriarty. “Because Dallas knows that every great city needs a great theatre to shine a light on who we are and light a beacon of hope guiding the way of who we can become.”
On the other side of the country, students from Hood River High School in Oregon celebrated their drama teacher Rachel Harry, who took home the Excellence in Theatre Education Award. “By acknowledging my work, you honor all theatre teachers and you elevate the art form in schools,” Harry said in her speech. “Theatre teachers labor so hard for the students because we care…We need the arts. Students need the arts. We all need theatre.”
Education and mentorship were ongoing themes of the evening, with host Kevin Spacey even calling up his mentors for guidance on how to host the ceremony during the opening number. And while Kevin Spacey looked to Whoopi Goldberg and Billy Crystal, many of the awardees thanked educators who work outside of the spotlight.
Gavin Creel, honored for his performance in Hello, Dolly!, thanked his alma mater, the University of Michigan. “My education as a young person there changed my life forever,” he said in his acceptance speech. “If you’re out there and you have money, and I know some people in this room have a lot of it, start a scholarship fund.”
Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the writing duo who won best score for Dear Evan Hansen, also credited their musical theatre training at the University of Michigan. “This is sacred ground to us, and nothing compares to it,” said Paul in the winners’ room. They also thanked many of their mentors, including Avenue Q scribe Jeff Marx. “He completely changed our lives,” said Pasek. “He gave us a loan that allowed us to stay in the city and work and write for a summer.”
Many recipients also thanked support systems outside the industry. Rachel Bay Jones, who received the Tony for featured actress in a musical for her performance in Dear Evan Hansen, thanked her grandmother, who sold her engagement ring so that Jones could move to New York City to pursue a career in theatre.
Michael Aronov, who won for featured actor in a play for Oslo, recalled his “ramen days” and thanked the friends who opened their doors to him when he didn’t have his own apartment in the city. “I had five sets of keys in my bag at all times,” he said. “When I’d miss the bus, I had friends who kept their doors open to me at any hour of the night.”
National funds for the arts were another hop topic of the evening. Kevin Kline, who took home the Tony for leading actor in a play for his performance in Present Laughter, put a spotlight on arts funding: “I would like to thank a couple of organizations without whom probably half of the people in this room would not be here—that would be the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Thank you.”
Cynthia Nixon, who won for featured actress in a play for her performance in The Little Foxes, spoke about the need for financial support for the arts. “I think it is important to fund artists—not just in New York and California, but all over the country,” she said in the winners’ room.
Bette Midler, who won for leading actress in a musical for her performance in Hello, Dolly!, later added in the winners’ room, “The Broadway stage supports 86,000 jobs. The arts are a source of revenue for the city and a great source of revenue for the United States.”
A complete list of winners is below.
Dear Evan Hansen
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical
Bette Midler, Hello, Dolly!
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical
Ben Platt, Dear Evan Hansen
Best Revival of a Musical
Oslo by J.T. Rogers
Best Revival of a Play
August Wilson’s Jitney
Andy Blankenbuehler, Bandstand
Best Direction of a Musical
Christopher Ashley, Come From Away
Best Direction of a Play
Rebecca Taichman, Indecent
Best Performance by an Actress in Featured Role a Musical
Rachel Bay Jones, Dear Evan Hansen
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play
Laurie Metcalf, A Doll’s House, Part 2
Alex Lacamoire, Dear Evan Hansen
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play
Kevin Kline, Present Laughter
Best Book of a Musical
Steven Levenson, Dear Evan Hansen
Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, Dear Evan Hansen
Best Lighting Design of a Musical
Bradley King, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play
Cynthia Nixon, Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical
Gavin Creel, Hello, Dolly!
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play
Michael Aronov, Oslo
Best Lighting Design of a Play
Christopher Akerlind, Indecent
Best Scenic Design of a Musical
Mimi Lien, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Best Scenic Design of a Play
Nigel Hook, The Play That Goes Wrong
Best Costume Design of a Musical
Santo Loquasto, Hello, Dolly!
Best Costume Design of a Play
Jane Greenwood, Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes